The video game legacy of Jack the Ripper
In case you’re not totally up to date on your history, the month of August is a memorable time of year for residents of London since it’s the month in which the infamous 19th century killer known as Jack the Ripper began his murderous tirade through the streets of the city’s Whitechapel district. Over the course of fourth months in the year 1888, Jack the Ripper brutally killed five different women before vanishing from the pages of history forever, his true identity remaining unknown to this day. Despite the horrendous nature of his crimes, Jack the Ripper has become a sort of mythical figure in the eyes of many, having appeared in countless works of fiction including books, movies, and even video games. Below, I’ve chronicled all of the various games in which Jack the Ripper has appeared, showing that his video game legacy is as strange as it is ominous.
Jack the Ripper (1987)
The very first video game appearance of Jack the Ripper was in a 1987 text adventure game titled Jack the Ripper which was released for PC systems like the Commodore 64 and the ZX Spectrum. The game was published by the now defunct British company CRL, and it featured a plot involving the player’s character being accused of the Ripper murders and then having to unmask the real killer in order to clear their name.
Jack the Ripper next showed up in the 1996 point-and-click PC adventure title aptly named Ripper. The game featured several famous Hollywood actors including Christopher Walken, John Rhys-Davies, Karen Allen, and Paul Giamatti, and it is actually set in the year 2040, transposing the infamous Ripper killings into a futuristic setting wherein a copycat killer is recreating the murders. Depending on which clues the player discovered and which puzzles they solved, one of four different characters (two men and two women) would be revealed as the Ripper, giving them game a total of four different possible endings.
Duke Nukem: Zero Hour (1999)
As part of its Victorian Era level, Duke Nukem: Zero Hour allowed players to visit the grisly murder scene of Mary Jane Kelly, the fifth and final victim of Jack the Ripper’s murder spree. Jack himself then showed up at the end of the level, serving as the game’s fourth major boss encounter.
Shadow Man (1999)
The Nintendo 64 Shadow Man game which is based off the comic series of the same name portrayed Jack the Ripper as an occultist who used the five murders he committed as a way to tap into supernatural powers and become one of the five “Dark Souls” (all of whom were formally serial killers) who serve the game’s main antagonist Legion. According to Shadow Man’s fiction, Jack the Ripper was actually an architect named John Pierce who, after taking his own life, constructs an insane asylum facility in the game’s land of the dead so that the evil spirits of other serial killers would have a place to congregate (and be recruited by Legion).
MediEvil 2 (2000)
In the 2000 hack-and-slash adventure game sequel to the original MediEvil, returning undead protagonist Sir Daniel Fortesque is revived in Victorian era London and discovers that the evil sorcerer Lord Palethorn has teamed up with Jack the Ripper to raise an army of zombies and use them to spread terror throughout the streets of the city. Similar to Duke Nukem: Zero Hour, Jack appears later in the game as a boss encounter, though MediEvil 2 portrays him as a large wolf-man with a top hat and bloody knives for fingers.
Jack the Ripper (2003)
Yet another adventure game titled Jack the Ripper was released in 2003, this one published by The Adventure Company and released for Windows platform PC’s. According to the game’s narrative, Jack the Ripper travelled to New York after leaving London in 1888, and the game picks up thirteen years later in 1901. The player takes on the role of a New York reporter who discovers that a recent string of murders share the same MO as the original Jack the Killer murders and inadvertently comes face to face with the killer himself.
Mystery in London: On the Trail of Jack the Ripper (2007)
This adventure/puzzle game from publisher Big Fish Games took a less violent approach, allowing the player to track down Jack the Ripper across 19 in-game chapters by solving various puzzles such as hidden object sequences (in which the player had to find a specific number of hidden objects in a static room), word searches, a digital version of the classic English board game Reversi, and good old fashioned jigsaw puzzles.
Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper (2009)
During the time of the actual Ripper murders, it was often lamented that, if Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictitious detective Sherlock Holmes were real, old Saucy Jack never would have gotten away with his gruesome crimes. Adventure game developer Frogwares took that very same idea and made it the focus of its 2009 adventure game Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper, presenting an alternate history scenario in which Sherlock Holmes was real and wound up drawn into the case of the Jack the Ripper killings. If the player managed to gather the right clues and make the right deductions, they would discover that Jack the Ripper was in fact a butcher named Jacob Levy, a man who was actually one of the key suspects in the real Ripper case.
Gotham By Gaslight (Cancelled)
2009 was also the year in which developer Day 1 Studios started pitching an idea for a video game based off the Gotham By Gaslight comic series, a one-off Elseworlds Batman story which features a 19th century Victorian era version of the Dark Knight working to track down Jack the Ripper and end his reign of terror over London. Now-defunct publisher THQ accepted the pitch, but over the next several years, a formal deal to secure the rights to Gotham by Gaslight was never finalized with DC Comics, and Day 1 was forced to cancel the game in 2012.
The Ripper (Cancelled)
In addition to Day 1 Studios’ and Frogwares’ Jack the Ripper projects, Dead Space series creator Visceral Games was working on its own Jack the Ripper title back in 2009, this one called The Ripper. The game was set to be a download-only title for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 (i.e. it had a smaller budget and a smaller design team than other AAA games), but it never saw the light of day, being unceremoniously cancelled at some point in 2009 (though the cancellation didn’t go public until 2011). It’s just as well, since the concept which Visceral was reportedly working with (a “re-imagining” in which the player, as Jack, hunts down and slays demons on the streets of London) sounded strange to say the least.
The Order: 1886 (2015)
Developer Ready at Dawn was poised to blow the gaming community away with its unique new IP The Order: 1886, a Victorian era shooter game that presented an alternate history in which a group of stoic knights used cutting edge technology and firearms to battle werewolves and vampires on the streets of London. Sadly, The Order: 1886 was released to middling reviews, it’s immersive world and story wasted on generic and oftentimes frustrating gameplay. Despite the fact that the game is set two years prior to the actual Ripper murders, one of the game’s main antagonists is revealed to be Jack the Ripper, a vampire who stalks the city at night so that he can find victims to feed upon, introducing a cool little twist on actual history which served as one of The Order’s few bright spots.
Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015)
Since Assassin’s Creed Syndicate is set within London during the Victorian era, having Jack the Ripper show up seems like a no-brainer, and Ubisoft made sure to give the iconic killer his proper due by making him a central figure in his own DLC spin-off campaign. Not only do players get to track down Jack and work to uncover his sinister plot, they also get to play as Jack during certain parts of the campaign, unleashing the terrifying martial prowess his Syndicate incarnation contains on the hapless constables and street thugs who get in his way. From a gameplay perspective, Jack’s tactics felt a little goofy at times (I seriously doubt a killer who relied so heavily on stealth and discretion would ever let out a primal scream, even if it did intimidate nearby targets), but for players who wanted to feel the ultimate rush of stepping into an infamous murderer’s shoes, it certainly scratched that itch.